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All About Winning
IAN THOMSEN
June 04, 2007
So consistent is his excellence, it is easy to forget that Tim Duncan, at 31, has already won three titles and is chasing a fourth
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June 04, 2007

All About Winning

So consistent is his excellence, it is easy to forget that Tim Duncan, at 31, has already won three titles and is chasing a fourth

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The old argument that Duncan was too insular to be an effective leader has turned out to be upside-down wrong. Duncan is still quiet, yes, but his stoicism has only strengthened the Spurs' faith in him; in turn, he has been emboldened and now speaks up more often. "I can honestly say that I feel more comfortable in saying what I have to say," says Duncan, who even while he was winning MVP awards in 2002 and '03 preferred not to raise his voice. "I feel that people respect what I have to say, and that is a big part of it, being confident in that."

When his fellow Spurs look to Duncan, they know that he isn't looking down his nose at them in return. "I've never seen him get on one of his teammates in the games we've played, and we've played a lot," says longtime Jazz assistant Phil Johnson. "I only see complimentary things."

Duncan's encouragement has empowered everyone from Parker and Gin´┐Żbili to Bruce Bowen, a former journeyman who has become the league's top perimeter defender and three-point specialist. "He's a guy who leads not just by example but by being supportive and empathetic and nonjudgmental with teammates, to the point where the trust they have with him is quite significant," says Popovich. " Tim Duncan touching you on the back of the head or putting his arm around you on his way into a timeout or leaning over and saying something to you during a timeout is huge. He knows that the attention from him to his teammates is just monstrous in their development and their self-confidence, and that recognition has made him the leader that he is."

The Spurs are 12--2 in playoff series over the last five years in no small part because Duncan's stability and versatility have enabled them to get the most out of complementary pieces, such as swingmen Michael Finley and center Fabricio Oberto. But Duncan was reminded how lucky he was to come to San Antonio by a recent Sporting News cover that showed him in a Boston Celtics uniform, illustrating a story about how the league might have changed had the Celtics won the 1997 draft lottery. "I was fortunate--as fortunate as the Spurs--to land where I did," he says, citing the ownership of Peter Holt, the stewardship of Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford, even the quality of the facilities in San Antonio as positives. "It's not guaranteed if I did go somewhere else that I would have won a championship. Maybe things being different, I never get to that point, because people don't prepare, people don't draft, people don't put teams together the right way, people don't coach the right way. So I'm absolutely blessed having the situation that I'm in."

Watch Duncan during a dead ball and he will reveal the secret of how someone who still says so little can wield so much influence. Instead of looking around to admire the view of 18,000 people flattering him with their taunts or praise, he draws within himself, blotting out the noise and taking account of what he needs to do better when play resumes. If Duncan appears blinkered and self-possessed, it's because he has a lot of people depending on him. And coming through for them really isn't as easy as he makes it look.

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